Suddenly, Obama administration looking into criminal charges for Wikileaks

posted at 9:30 am on November 30, 2010 by Ed Morrissey

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange and his crew have spent the past few months releasing classified material purloined from the American government.  After the latest round of leaks began this weekend, the Obama administration suddenly discovered that there may be laws against that.  The White House has engaged in a media blitz to assure Americans that they are right on top of those alleged crimes:

Federal authorities are investigating whether WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange violated criminal laws in the group’s release of government documents, including possible charges under the Espionage Act, sources familiar with the inquiry said Monday.

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said the Justice Department and Pentagon are conducting “an active, ongoing criminal investigation.” Others familiar with the probe said the FBI is examining everyone who came into possession of the documents, including those who gave the materials to WikiLeaks and also the organization itself. No charges are imminent, the sources said, and it is unclear whether any will be brought.

Former prosecutors cautioned that prosecutions involving leaked classified information are difficult because the Espionage Act is a 1917 statute that preceded Supreme Court cases that expanded First Amendment protections. The government also would have to persuade another country to turn over Assange, who is outside the United States.

But the sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the inquiry is rapidly unfolding, said charges could be filed under the act. The U.S. attorney’s office in Alexandria – which in 2005 brought Espionage Act charges, now dropped, against two former pro-Israel lobbyists – is involved in the effort, the sources said.

Why is this round of leaks any different than previous leaks about the military?  It seems that the release of the diplomatic cables, unlike the earlier releases which identified hundreds of informants in Afghanistan and exposed them to mortal danger, embarrasses Obama administration officials.  Apparently it’s fine to blow military operations and the cover of those in a war zone who help the US, but when you make Hillary Clinton blush, well, look out.

Can the DoJ get an indictment?  The axiom holds that a prosecutor can get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich, but convictions are another matter.  In this case, though, the indictment seems pretty straightforward.  At least some of the material released by Wikileaks is covered by laws protecting classified information, and those laws have been upheld in the past against First Amendment challenges.  On the other hand, Assange may have a defense against selective prosecution, since the US government never prosecuted newspapers and reporters in the US that published national-security secrets, most notably the New York Times and the Washington Post.  In those cases, though, the papers didn’t publish the documents verbatim and kept the details — especially on personnel — out of print.

At least an indictment would start the ball rolling on arresting or capturing Assange and his Wikileaks team to stop any further damage to American security.  Waiting until this moment to start pursuing an indictment is a demonstration of impotence and incompetency.


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yes Wikileaks announced their next target is a US Bank and lo and behold Team Obama suddenly raises criminal charges. TBTF rang their little bell and they jumped to obey. Frakkers.

ginaswo on November 30, 2010 at 12:30 PM

Yep. Why? Why? The same old why! Money!

ALWAYS FOLLOW THE MONEY.

“And WikiLeaks’ next target will be a major American bank. “It will give a true and representative insight into how banks behave at the executive level in a way that will stimulate investigations and reforms, I presume,” he said, adding: “For this, there’s only one similar example. It’s like the Enron emails.”

That’s why.

j_galt on November 30, 2010 at 12:40 PM

Why is this round of leaks any different than previous leaks about the military? It seems that the release of the diplomatic cables, unlike the earlier releases which identified hundreds of informants in Afghanistan and exposed them to mortal danger, embarrasses Obama administration officials. Apparently it’s fine to blow military operations and the cover of those in a war zone who help the US, but when you make Hillary Clinton blush, well, look out.

Because he is now threatening the authoritarians themselves and, not surprisingly, they are playing right into his hand.

The more secretive or unjust an organization is, the more leaks induce fear and paranoia in its leadership and planning coterie.

Assange’s essays describe the purpose of Wikileaks, which is to gum up the shadow government’s works, causing it to turn on itself and become less conspiratorial and more open as a result.

s 510 passed the federal government just took over another section of our economy and no one cares….

unseen on November 30, 2010 at 11:31 AM

I care. I care very much. Around here, it seems making fun of Harry Reid and banning the earmark process so the executive branch can dole out our tax dollars as it sees fit is more important than our fascist government taking over the entire agricultural industry to the tune of $1 billion dollars and 17,000 more FDA bureaucrats.

Rae on November 30, 2010 at 12:45 PM

The leaker was a little sissy in the military protected by DADT. Can’t prosecute a gay for a little rebellion. It ain’t his fault he is tormented by breeders.

seven on November 30, 2010 at 9:49 AM

It appears you are correct. This makes me sick.

Like it or not, this also furthers the precedent for counter intelligence profiling of gays in the military. They already do it for single people with classified positions in general.

scotash on November 30, 2010 at 12:47 PM

Color me unsurprised. Obama couldn’t give a rat’s arse about what Wikileaks leaks, until it actually affects his sorry hide.

Here’s hoping they’re able to shed some light on this idiot’s dealings with his corporatist masters.

Dark-Star on November 30, 2010 at 1:03 PM

When the last Wikileaks came out that were negative to Bush and the military, we didn’t hear a peep from Obummer. Now that its his admin…….Hang him!

Bevan on November 30, 2010 at 1:21 PM

Three words:

Horse, Barn, Door

stenwin77 on November 30, 2010 at 1:49 PM

I care. I care very much. Around here, it seems making fun of Harry Reid and banning the earmark process so the executive branch can dole out our tax dollars as it sees fit is more important than our fascist government taking over the entire agricultural industry to the tune of $1 billion dollars and 17,000 more FDA bureaucrats.

Rae on November 30, 2010 at 12:45 PM

amazing isn’t it. i know food isn’t sexy but when the federal government takes over the entire food supply of a nation you would think some people might be a little concerned….

unseen on November 30, 2010 at 1:55 PM

Some people love the welfare state. Some people love the warfare state.

Some people love when the government gives them free stuff. Some people love when the government bombs places to keep them free.

Some people think the government should help their neighbors. Some people think the government should keep out foreigners.

Both groups always want the government to do something. Both groups always want the state to be involved.

j_galt on November 30, 2010 at 2:47 PM

Isn’t this “new, exciting, never before !!!” just more two three and four year old trash can retrievals?

Where is last week’s WH leaks? Oh, right. D’rats are predictable and are governing just like the people want.

So the Nov. election had no meaning.

Caststeel on November 30, 2010 at 2:48 PM

You want to shut down WikiLeaks?

Convince Obama that they’re about to publish his academic transcripts.

malclave on November 30, 2010 at 2:48 PM

j_galt on November 30, 2010 at 2:47 PM

Amendment X

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

Doe this help?

Caststeel on November 30, 2010 at 2:56 PM

“Doe” s/b Does

Caststeel on November 30, 2010 at 2:57 PM

You want to shut down WikiLeaks?

Convince Obama that they’re about to publish his academic transcripts.

malclave on November 30, 2010 at 2:48 PM

Or maybe his birth certificate? ;}

Dark-Star on November 30, 2010 at 2:57 PM

Hot Airhead Ed,

You surely grasp that tonal as well as substantive differences obtain in this latest round of leaks, and it’s not especially surprising or outrageous that a democratically elected US administration would pick this moment to say, “Enough is enough.”

I’m comfortable with where Holder has chosen to educe a boundary.

It’s one thing to release classified material when the (misguided) idea is to amplify genuine concerns about the US military fighting what some Euro-dork considers an unjust war. Most libs can at least sympathize with that; a lot of us libs hated the Iraq war and the cynical lies it was built on. WikiLeaks used to project an anti-war stance that, frankly, wasn’t all that far removed from what many Americans feel.

But it’s another species of evil to attack the very fabric of America’s civilian diplomatic work ALL OVER THE WORLD for no other reason than to diminish America. That’s f**ked up. That’s not fighting for peace. That’s simply trying to reduce every aspect of the American project.

I know it’s just about impossible for you to acknowledge, but plenty of libs are just as outraged by these leaks as their Hot Airhead countrymen. And from what I’m hearing in libertarian circles, many of us libs actually have more in common with neocons on this one.

bifidis on November 30, 2010 at 3:01 PM

Here’s why the Obama admin “suddenly” investigates Julian:

“Palin Calls for Wikileaks Prosecution – Obama Responds”

Kinda’ the same reason that Obama calls for spending freeze:

“Palin Calls for Freeze – Obama Responds”

hrh40 on November 30, 2010 at 3:02 PM

Most libs can at least sympathize with that; a lot of us libs hated the Iraq war and the cynical lies it was built on. WikiLeaks used to project an anti-war stance that, frankly, wasn’t all that far removed from what many Americans feel.

So its not treason when you do it? When you support the politics of it, its just fine a dandy.

But it’s another species of evil to attack the very fabric of America’s civilian diplomatic work ALL OVER THE WORLD for no other reason than to diminish America. That’s f**ked up. That’s not fighting for peace. That’s simply trying to reduce every aspect of the American project.

bifidis on November 30, 2010 at 3:01 PM

When it bites you in the posterior then lets just sit back and watch the outrageously outraged spill forth their patriotism.

sharrukin on November 30, 2010 at 3:08 PM

Does this help?

Caststeel on November 30, 2010 at 2:56 PM

Help with what?

j_galt on November 30, 2010 at 3:13 PM

First of all, can you stop raging long enough to learn ‘ya this, Teabag Man?: “Its” is a possessive pronoun. “It’s” is a contraction for “it is.”

So its not treason when you do it? When you support the politics of it, its just fine a dandy.

sharrukin on November 30, 2010 at 3:08 PM

And you operate by some other set of principles? That’s a laugh. I’m just waiting to hear you extol the virtues of some Obama security policy you deeply disagree with.

OTOH, no, I’m not saying at ALL what you’re obsessed with believing about me. As for treason, I’m no constitutional lawyer. How the fug do I know? The US soldier named Bradley Manning — a member of our military, not a civilian (you still listening?) — seems to have betrayed his country and his brothers- and sisters-in-arms, yes. He also seems to have betrayed his own country. Yes. So it seems. He’s entitled to a trial in a court or before a tribunal, but that’s what it seems. We also have a foreign national publishing material meant to damage our country. Can that be treason? I doubt it. But it’s wrong and it must be stopped. We also have a mainstream newspaper making foreign policy decisions. Who allowed that to happen?

I’m way more concerned about closing the barn door, and you should be, too.

bifidis on November 30, 2010 at 4:03 PM

And you operate by some other set of principles? That’s a laugh. I’m just waiting to hear you extol the virtues of some Obama security policy you deeply disagree with.

Yeah. I actually do operate on different principles. I may disagree with Obama’s policies but that is something entirely different than supporting someone who commits treason to subvert those policies. I supported his getting rid of the F-22 for example but would never support a military officer betraying his oath to accomplish that.

We also have a mainstream newspaper making foreign policy decisions. Who allowed that to happen?

You guys did. NYT publishing stories, national security? Any of this ringing a bell?

I’m way more concerned about closing the barn door, and you should be, too.

bifidis on November 30, 2010 at 4:03 PM

Nice if you sort had been patriotic when Republicans were in office, but hey, welcome to the party anyway. How’s it feel? I guess for you this is…‘the First Time in My Adult Lifetime, I Am Really Proud of My Country’, just like Michelle Obama.

sharrukin on November 30, 2010 at 4:21 PM

How does Eric Holder still have a job? This administration is so tone deaf, it is absolutely astounding.

sDs61678 on November 30, 2010 at 4:25 PM

Nice if you sort had been patriotic when Republicans were in office, but hey, welcome to the party anyway. How’s it feel? I guess for you this is…‘the First Time in My Adult Lifetime, I Am Really Proud of My Country’, just like Michelle Obama.

sharrukin on November 30, 2010 at 4:21 PM

I hope it feels good for you, getting it all out. You’ve thoroughly confused me, but I guess that’s because I’m a communist, right?

bifidis on November 30, 2010 at 6:30 PM

I hope it feels good for you, getting it all out. You’ve thoroughly confused me, but I guess that’s because I’m a communist, right?

bifidis on November 30, 2010 at 6:30 PM

No, I imagine its because you’re not very bright. Real communists tend not to be the dumb ones. You’re what is know as a ‘useful idiot’.

So go ahead and get all outraged about the EXACT SAME THINGS that took place under Bush, but now that they are happening to a Democrat you can spend what brainpower you have left and spin some cosmic explanation as to why its terrible now, and was perfectly fine then.

sharrukin on November 30, 2010 at 6:43 PM

No, I imagine its because you’re not very bright. Real communists tend not to be the dumb ones. You’re what is know as a ‘useful idiot’.

So go ahead and get all outraged about the EXACT SAME THINGS that took place under Bush, but now that they are happening to a Democrat you can spend what brainpower you have left and spin some cosmic explanation as to why its terrible now, and was perfectly fine then.

sharrukin on November 30, 2010 at 6:43 PM

I’m even more refudiated now, dangnabbit. Pleez tok better — my head thingie don’t wurk so well.

bifidis on November 30, 2010 at 7:16 PM

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